Search results for 'oyster boy'

Seaside fairy-tale

5 Mar

Oyster Boy

Blue Elephant, 02.03.17


The innovative, all-female company Haste Theatre have brought Oyster Boy to the Blue Elephant, a lively adaptation of Tim Burton’s short story ‘The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy.’ It’s an engaging piece, and it gets a lot of its strange charm from mixing clowning, puppetry and conventional theatre as well as mixing tones. The narrative has some of the flavour of Celtic folktales – Sam, the boy born with an oyster shell for a head, is a sort of absurdist relation of changelings and selkies, part-supernatural outsiders that eventually have to be given back to the sea. The setting, however, is not a windswept Scottish fishing village but 1950s Coney Island, complete with ice-cream sellers, doo-wop music and, rather improbably, kite surfing.

Pregnancy 2 Oyster Boy smaller

The piece is a great showcase for the talents of its six-strong ensemble. Valeria Compagnoni and Lexie McDougall play Jim and Alice, a couple who meet on the beach when he sells her an ice cream and then rescues her from a shark, but whose marriage is challenged by the birth of Sam, the titular Oyster Boy. The plot is silly, but the characters are so sweet and naïve that their trials and tribulations are genuinely affecting. They are supported by a chorus in bright spotted sundresses, punctuating the story with rhyming narration and cheerful harmonies. They also provide the set – using long swathes of fabric to represent the sea and various other settings – and populate the rest of Brooklyn as Jim and Alice’s neighbours and visiting holidaymakers, and, in two memorable comic scenes, as the snooty French waiters at a fancy seafood restaurant and the arrogant doctors about to embark on ground-breaking but morally questionable surgery to replace Sam’s oyster head. Both these scenes are a lot of fun. The cast are clearly having a great time, and the slightly unreliable false moustaches in the restaurant scene really only add to the hilarity – drooping halfway off the actress’ upper lip throughout the scene. By the later hospital scene, the tone has shifted and the humour is much darker, but the doctors are, nonetheless, a great comic double act.

Chorus Oyster Boy smaller

Sam himself is played by a puppet – a giant oyster shell with eyes, and a ragdoll body – which looks absurd but is also kind of sweet and tragic. The humanity in the puppet comes from careful, witty puppeteering – Sam’s hesitant little movements and interactions with his friends Molly and Polly are cute, and the aforementioned kite-surfing interlude is a chance to show off a more elaborate version of the puppet. We also see a few more basic puppet props – notably the dorsal fin of the shark that nearly eats Alice in the opening sequence.


Oyster Boy is a very odd play – it’s too tender to really work as black comedy, too dark for a seaside story, too cheery and flippant for a moral fable. There is some social commentary in there, particularly in the scenes with Alice’s friends flocking around her in sympathy that she couldn’t have a ‘normal’ baby. The ending flirts with breaking your heart and then resumes a breezy tone, shrugging off the family’s tragedy. But its mix of tones shouldn’t be treated as a weakness – the play and its source material thrive on not fitting into conventional categories.


Lexie McDougall, Elly Beaman-Brinklow, Jesse Dupré, Tamara Saffir and Sophie Taylor in Oyster Boy, Blue Elephant Theatre. Photographs by Heather Ralph. 


play list

26 Jun



Legends: Monsters, Mead and Mayhem/ Blue Elephant – The poet and the sea monster

102/ The Space – A domestic horror show

Don Juan in Soho/ Wyndhams


Queen of Carnage/The Space – Dido in a rubber catsuit

Twelfth Night/ Blue Elephant – Shakespeare dance party


Oyster Boy/ Blue Elephant – Seaside fairy-tale

The Voiceless/ The Space – Missed connections

Hedda Gabler/ NT Lyttelton – Immolation and empty rooms

The Mutant Man/ The Space – Gender Trouble

My Brilliant Friend/ Rose Kingston


Death Takes a Holiday/ Charing Cross – The singing necrophiliac

The White Devil/ Sam Wanamaker – A swift lesson in revenge

Two Man Show/ Soho – A Song about Patriarchy

Female Intuition/ Blue Elephant – Short dramas on ghosts, politics, death and hacktivism


Searching Shadows et al/ The Space – One Festival plays



The Children/ Royal Court – You don’t have a right to electricity


Othello/ Upstairs at the Gatehouse – A domestic tragedy


No Man’s Land/ Wyndhams – The best time to drink champagne


How to Date a Feminist/ Arcola – Rom-com redux

Pussyfooting/ Camden People’s Theatre – Sleepover snapshots


The Taming of the Shrew/ Globe – Rebellious women

The Deep Blue Sea/ NT – A relationship post-mortem

The Plough and the Stars/ NT – Rising100 at the NT

Groundhog Day/ Old Vic – Let’s do the time warp again (and again)


Henry V/ Regents Park OAT – In which a female leader does not always mean progress

Les Musketières du Trois/ Blue Elephant – Swash swash, buckle buckle, ooh là là

Much Ado About Nothing/ St Paul’s Church – I can see a church by daylight

Richard III/ Almeida – The king in the car park


Running Wild/ Regents Park OAT – Adventures of Oona the Elephant

In the Gut/ Blue Elephant – Theatre/Gynaecology

Macbeth/ Globe – Something wicked


Strawberry Starburst/ Blue Elephant – Being in control


A Working Title/ Blue Elephant – London symphony

The Sugar-Coated Bullets of the Bourgeoisie/ Arcola – To enter the tiger’s lair

The Bacchae/ Blue Elephant – Disco Greeks


Anna Karenina/ Brockley Jack – Sensible Russians

The Winter’s Tale/ Sam Wanamaker – Her natural posture


In the Heights/ King’s Cross – Ninety-six thousand! 

As You Like It/ NT Olivier – No clock in the forest


Jane Eyre/ NT Lyttelton – The madwoman on the climbing frame



Henry V/ Barbican – What ish my nation?

Pericles/ Sam Wanamaker – Those is peril on the sea

Romeo and Julian/ KCL Shakespeare Society – In fair Tutu’s, where we lay our scene

The Little Match Girl/ Blue Elephant – Festive puppetry

Exhibition review: Julia Margaret Cameron/ V&A and Julia Margaret Cameron: Influence and Intimacy/ Science Museum – Julia and Julia


The Woman in Black/ Fortune – An Exorcism

All on Her Own and Harlequinade/ Garrick – Is she here for The Winter’s Tale?

1992 and Over There/ Blue Elephant – Dangling questions

Titus Andronicus/ New Wimbledon Studio – These broken limbs again

The Winter’s Tale/ Garrick – The cold never bothered me anyway

The Devil is an Ass/ Rose Bankside – Pug’s Adventures in London


Octagon/ Arcola – the points are not the point

Gypsy/ Savoy – Scrapbooks full of me in the background

Measure for Measure/ Young Vic – My false o’erweighs your true


The Heresy of Love/ Globe – In expectation of the Spanish Inquisition

Measure for Measure/ Globe – The ethics of debauchery

Three Days in the Country/ NT Lyttelton – Sexy Uncle Vanya

Hangmen/ Royal Court – Too good for ’em


The Playboy of the Western World – Southwark Playhouse – We’ll have peace now for our drinks

Hamlet/ Barbican – Cumberlet Hamberbatch


Twelfth Night/ St Paul’s Church – Shipwreck in a rose garden

You’ll be sorry when I’m gone/ Bread and Roses – Graveside theatre

Lampedusa/ Soho Theatre – The most unlikely thing

Henry V/ Union Theatre – The conceptual battleground

As You Like It/ Globe – Hereafter, in a better world than this

Constellations/ Trafalgar Studios – Versions of a conversation


Taming of the Shrew/ New Wimbledon – Turned tables

King John/ Globe – Battles and bastardy


Macbeth/Rose Bankside – Hell is murky

The Merchant of Venice/ Globe – A pound of flesh

High Society/ Old Vic – A swell party

Tartuffe/ Tobacco Factory – Somehow, it all turns out well


The Ruling Class/ Trafalgar Studios – Is Jeeves a bolshie? (and other important questions)

The 56/ Bread and Roses – What the City remembers


The Nether/ Duke of York – Imagining love post-morality

Boy in Darkness/ Blue Elephant – Don’t wander off


3 Winters/ NT Lyttelton – The personal and the political

Grimm’s Tales/ Bargehouse – It’s grimmer than you remember

Songs of Lear/ Battersea Arts Centre – We came crying hither

The Bald Prima Donna/ Jacques / Network Theatre – Don’t faint yet – wait till the end of the play

The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland/ Albany Theatre – In which the other play is all in your head

roswitha in soffita/ Blue Elephant – Baggage


The Changeling/ Sam Wanamaker – The deed’s creature

Treasure Island/ NT Olivier – Girls need adventures too, Mrs Hawkins

The Merchant of Venice/ Almeida – The quality of mercy (is not forthcoming)



The Knight of the Burning Pestle/ Sam Wanamaker – Plot me no plots


Henry IV / Donmar – Speed Henries

Henry IV, part 1/ Bloomsbury – Out of all reasonable compass

Myths/ Blue Elephant – Teatime for the Fates


Edward II/ The London Theatre – All the king’s men

The White Devil/ Swan Stratford – The virgin/whore dichotomy, remixed

Julius Caesar/ Globe – Antique Romans and Renaissance Romans

Uncle Vanya/ St James – Unhappy families

Khthonios: Orpheus and Eurydice/ KCL – Kith onions

James I: The Key Will Keep the Lock/ NT Olivier – The bed and the battlefield

King Charles III/ Wyndhams – Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown

The Cherry Orchard/ Young Vic – Oh god, that kind of Chekhov

‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore/ Sam Wanamaker – Too hot for TFL


Martin Guerre/ Watermill – Retrospective II: About a name

Two Gentlemen of Verona/ RSC ‘Live from Stratford-upon-Avon’ – Love, and a bit with a dog

Richard III/ Trafalgar Studios – I am in so far in blood

The Moment Before I Am Powerful/ Trafalgar Studios – Surprise McAvoy

Ballyturk/ NT Lyttelton – It may or may not be important 


Miss Saigon/ Prince Edward – The musical with the helicopter

Antony and Cleopatra/ Globe – The gods themselves do weep

The Crucible/ Old Vic – Dances with the devil


Shakespeare in Love/ Noel Coward – Allow me to explain about the theatre business


A Midsummer Night’s Dream/ Globe – Bless thee, Bottom, bless thee! Thou art translated! 

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels / Savoy – Giving [them] what [they] want

The Roaring Girl/ Swan Stratford – Codpiece daughters

Henry IV parts 1 & 2/ RST – Jesu, the days that we have seen

Titus Andronicus/ Globe – Hands, heads, hearts

The Flying Roast Goose/ Blue Elephant – A small story from a large war

The Comedy of Errors/ Yvonne Arnaud – The wrong Antipholus

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance/ Park – Print the legend

Scenes from Hello Again/ Blue Elephant – Musical sampler


Sleep No More/ McKittrick Hotel – In a wardrobe with a witch

Pippin/ Music Box Theatre – Charlemagne joins the circus


The Commitments/ Palace – Feckin’ soul

Richard III/ Blue Elephant – A Masque of Queens

Bouncers/ Brookside Theatre –Sambuca Odyssey

riverrun/ NT Shed – Liffey Stories

The Massacre at Paris/ Rose Bankside – Confetti and Catholics


The Duchess of Malfi/ Sam Wanamaker Playhouse – This darkness suits you well

The Knight of the Burning Pestle/ Sam Wanamaker Playhouse – for Shakespeare Journal

Red Velvet/ Tricycle – Playing the Moor


The Phantom of the Opera/ Her Majesty’s Theatre – He’s here!

King Lear/ NT – These late eclipses

Blurred Lines/ NT Shed – In which the NT needs feminism because…



Henry V/ Noel Coward – Imitate the action of the tiger

Ushers: The Front of House Musical/ Hope – Treat everyone as if they’re Andrew Lloyd Webber – at OneStopArts

Richard II/ Barbican – Some have been deposed

Pride and Prejudice, the panto/ Cockpit – ‘This is a Regency drama, not a…’ – at OneStopArts

Coriolanus/ Donmar – Would you have me false to my nature?


Twelfth Night/ Rose Bankside – Revels and Ravers – at OneStopArts

A Midsummer Night’s Dream/ Yvonne Arnaud – In which Snug the Joiner is not a lion

Lizzie Siddal/ Arcola – Oil and Canvas – at OneStopArts

The Drowned Man/ Temple Studios – Wanderings in Temple Studios

Dickens Abridged/ Arts – Hard Expectations and Great Times


Hidden in the Sand/ Trafalgar Studios – Returning to Ammochostos – at OneStopArts

The Light Princess/ NT – Gravity and H2O

A Tale of Two Cities/ King’s Head – A far, far better thing

A Midsummer Night’s Dream/ Noël Coward – A Pipe Dream

Godot/ Waterloo East – Nobody comes, nobody goes – at OneStopArts


The Duchess of Malfi/ Southwark Playhouse – Smother thy pity – at OneStopArts

Edward II/ NT – Edward undone 

Much Ado About Nothing/ Old Vic – Church Hall Shakespeare

The Spanish Tragedy/ Blue Elephant – Hieronimo is mad again

The Lightning Child/ Globe – People are not ready for this shit


Othello/ NT – Richer than all his tribe

One Man, Two Guv’nors/ Haymarket – Take that look off your farce

The Tempest/ Globe – I believe it may be sorcery

Liolà/ NT – An Embarrassment of Riches

The Picture of Dorian Gray/ Greenwich Townhouse – Every portrait is a self-portrait – at OneStopArts

All’s Well That Ends Well/ RST – Problem play

A Mad World My Masters/ Swan Stratford – Robberies and shenanigans

As You Like It/ RST – Welcome to ArdenFest

Titus Andronicus/ Swan Stratford – And afterwards, there was no-one to bury them

Titanic/ Southwark Playhouse – To the lifeboats

Blue Stockings/ Globe – Educating women

Macbeth/ NT Encore – Ken in a kilt


Julius Caesar/ St. Paul’s Church – Every Roman and mankind – at OneStopArts

The Cripple of Inishmaan/ Noel Coward – It’ll all end in tears, or death, or worse – at OneStopArts

The Taming of the Shrew/ Hampstead – Beware my sting

Titus Andronicus/ Buxton Arts Festival – Buckets

Henry VI/ Globe – Of kettle drums and kings


Hamlet/RST – Clearly, he has issues

Romeo and Juliet/ Old Red Lion – Love, death and the One Direction generation – at OneStopArts

The Taming of the Shrew/ Globe – A Shrew by Moonlight

Macbeth/ Globe – The (Scottish) play’s the thing

The Alchemist/ Rose Bankside – When the cat’s away


Evita/ New Wimbledon – Tears for Eva – at OneStopArts

Lear/ Greenwich – Shadow play – at OneStopArts

We Will Rock You/ Dominion – You will never escape from the laser cage!

Peter and Alice/ Noel Coward – Remnants of an old story


Six Characters in Search of an Author/ Rose Bankside – The heap of broken images – at OneStopArts

The Winslow Boy/ Old Vic – How things are done

The Empress/Swan Stratford – Very cold and very far from home

Doktor Glas/ Wyndhams – Confessions of a philanthropist – at OneStopArts

Hamlet/ The Bunker – The last days of Elsinore – at OneStopArts

Twelfth Night/ Rose, Kingston – Improbable fictions – at OneStopArts


School for Wives/ White Bear – Lessons in cuckoldry – at OneStopArts

Longing/ Hampstead – The life you can imagine

Quasimodo/ King’s Head – Everyone loves Esmeralda – at OneStopArts


Great Expectations/ Vaudeville – A symphony in cobwebs – at OneStopArts

The Secret Garden/ King’s Head – The promise of spring – at OneStopArts

Kiss me, Kate/Old Vic – A shrew by any other name

Let it Be/ Savoy – A Night with the Pretend Beatles


Cabaret/ Savoy – This is the way the world ends

The Nutcracker/ London Coliseum – One last Christmas dance

Good Morning, Alamo!/ Tabard – Myth-making in mexico – at OneStopArts

Privates on Parade/ Noel Coward – Song and Dance Unit South East Asia

Trojan Women/ Brockley Jack – Spoils of war – at OneStopArts



The Architects/ V22 Biscuit Factory – Long journey into madness – at OneStopArts

Cinderella the Midnight Princess/ Rose, Kingston – If the shoe fits – at OneStopArts

A Christmas Carol/ Waterloo East – Just like the ones we used to know – at OneStopArts


Uncle Vanya/ Vaudeville – Sorrows and the samovar – at OneStopArts

Hedda Gabler / Old Vic – To finish something beautiful

Golgotha/ Tristan Bates – History repeating – at OneStopArts


The Hotel Plays / Grange Holborn – What goes on behind closed doors – at OneStopArts

Showstopper!/ Charing Cross – Pulled out of a hat – at OneStopArts

The Revenger’s Tragedy/ Hoxton Hall – Tell No One

Timon of Athens/ NT Olivier – F*** you all, I’d rather live in a cave

Othello/ Brockley Jack – Zounds, innit – at OneStopArts


Interlude for the London Olympics – Just a moment for the greatest show on Earth

Billy Elliot/ Victoria Palace – Socialism and pirouettes


Henry V/ Hampstead – Nothing so becomes a man

Richard III/ Globe – A fellowship of ghosts

Singin’ in the Rain/ Palace – The wettest summer on record

Matilda/ Cambridge – Children are maggots


The Tempest/ Roundhouse – Temperance was a delicate wench

Richard III/ Swan Stratford – Shed no tear for Richard III

The Comedy of Errors/ Roundhouse – The trouble with twins

Henry V/ Globe – O for a Muse of fire!


Two Roses for Richard III/ Roundhouse – Does Richard walk thus, speak thus?


The Mouse Trap/ St Martin’s – A whodunnit diamond jubilee

Twelfth Night/ RST – No more cakes and ale

Sweeny Todd/ Adelphi – Man devouring man, my dear

Blood Brothers/ Phoenix – A lesson for angry young men

The Duchess of Malfi/ Old Vic – Riot begins to sit on thy forehead


Tis Pity She’s a Whore/ Barbican – A heart, my lords, in which is mine entombed


War Horse/ New London – Retrospective: about a horse



Howl’s Moving Castle/ Southwark Playhouse – A walking shadow, a poor player

Richard II/ Donmar – The First Straw


Tosca/ Royal Opera House – E avanti a lui, tremava tutta Roma

Festen/ Barbican – The artiest thing we’ve ever seen


The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)/ New Red Lion – Blah, blah, blah, and Hamlet


Richard III/ Old Vic – A horse for a Plantagenet


From Here to There/ Barbican – Dancing peculiarities

Wunderkammer/ Barbican – Tales from a trapeze

Much Ado About Nothing/ Globe – A Beard and No Beard


The Wizard of Oz/ Palladium – If I only had a sense of irony

Love never Dies/ Adelphi – Phantom spawn


Flare Path/ Haymarket – Understatements about hysteria

As You Like It/ Globe – I met a fool i’ th’ forest. A motley fool.

Much Ado About Nothing/ Wyndhams – Daleks in the stalls

Cleopatra/ Sadler’s Wells – The sting of an asp


The Umbrellas of Cherbourg/ Gielgud – In France, we kiss on both cheeks and say “Bonsoir”

Hamlet/ Globe – The funeral baked-meats did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables


Frankenstein/ National – Blinking, step into the sun


King Lear/ Donmar – Not ague-proof

The Rivals/ Haymarket – As obstinate as an allegory on the banks of the Nile

Throats!/ Pleasance – The sledgehammer avant-garde


Julius Caesar/ Roundhouse – Ambition should be made of sterner stuff

As You Like It/ Roundhouse – No Animals Were Harmed

King Lear/ Roundhouse – Howl, howl, howl, howl



Romeo and Juliet/ Roundhouse – The children of an idle mind

Hamlet/ National – I know a hawk from a handsaw

Matilda/ Courtyard – The acrobat, the escapologist, and the December blizzard

The Winter’s Tale/ Roundhouse – Exit, pursued by a bear


Macbeth/ Barbican – Full of sound and fury

Birdsong/Comedy – Confessions and pyrotechnics

The 39 Steps/ Criterion – I am an itinerant labourer

Peppa Pig’s Party/ Criterion – Bong bing boo…

The Three Musketeers/ Rose Kingston – All jolly good fun until somebody gets killed


Henry IV part 1/ Globe – Sblood, you starveling, you eel-skin!

Page to Stage/ Jackson’s Lane – On sex and German accents

Tribes/ Royal Court – Welcome to the nepotism club

Nicholas Hytner on Hamlet/ National – Terrible, dramaturgically


Les Misérables/ Barbican – Phantom faces at the window

O for a Muse of fire!

25 Jun

Henry V

Globe, 24.06.12, with Eve

I’m going to go ahead and own up to it: when it comes to being intellectual about Shakespeare, I’m a bit of a fraud. Sorry, Arts and Humanities Research Council, in me your faith is mistook. I’m in it for the jokes and the sword fighting. And the sexy actors.

Anyway, I love Henry V for the riotous joy of it, and Jamie Parker in particular because he rocks a rampant lion/fleur-de-lys quartered tabard like no one else (sorry Kenneth) and he’s just exceptionally likeable. I’ll fight the French for you, Jamie! (Sorry Marie).

The production kicks off with some musicians just chilling out and playing some medieval instruments, while smirking smugly at how wet we are getting in the pit as London continues to unleash its June deluge. Smirking smugly, it seems, at me in particular, and bizarrely, one of them comes right up to the edge of the stage to ask me if I’ve got a Travelcard. What? Marry, sir, I have an Oystercard, forsooth. (But because I’m a moron and have no money, I walked here from Euston Street, and very nearly got lost.) Anyway, stop spoiling the moment and go back to your lute!

Eventually, the rascals are chased away by some more serious musicians with drums, escorting the sparrow-like but fierce lady who will be our chorus for the afternoon. It’s a delicate departure from traditional chorus style (Jacobi in a trench coat, anyone?) and though she doesn’t do anything very radical I like her authority and her ghostlike presence. ‘O for a Muse of fire!’ she begins, gloriously. It’s bloody silly, the prologue, actually – “I wish this play were actually not a play but the full-scale repetition of the events it depicts, but since that’s not possible, please be so kind as to imagine the horses, fields, ships and whatever else proves necessary.” That’s okay, chorus, this ain’t our first time.

The chorus retreats to the undignified task of toilet attendant to two conniving archbishops. (Don’t you hate it, incidentally, when there are toilet attendants in bars in the West End?) The archbishops want to push the new king, fresh from cavorting in pubs, into war with France. Their justification of this to the court goes on and on and concerns Salic law and inheritances and a bit of a geography lesson, and instead of cutting heavily, which is what most people do, this director has decided to have the king and the rest of the cast complicit with the audience in the boredom attending these longwinded archbishops. It kind of works actually, it’s like the way the classroom can be united, overcoming difference, when they are sharing a moment of fidgeting and giggling. Eventually, the king  objects, suggesting that the Scots need battering before the French can be battered. I think, I’m not going to wait while you fanny around in Scotland, get to Harfleur! And the bishop agrees with me. The king’s still not too sure, until the Dauphin’s cheeky gift of tennis balls arrives, a reminder of Hal’s drunken shenanigans, which awakes an urge to prove himself, or at least to punch the Dauphin’s teeth in, and so to France we go.

First, though, a big fat loose end from Henry IV parts 1 and 2 needs tying up, or at least, enshrouding and burying, so we detour to Eastcheap, where Pistol (grotesque, flamboyant, with horrifying teeth), Nym (ancient and gormless) and Bardolph (with a red face) are bickering, and offstage, Falstaff is dying.  They are also mourning Hal, and quite afraid of him; this friend who’s turned into the king of England. They blame him for Falstaff’s withering, but they retain enough affection for him to follow him to France, though only the clear-sighted Boy (played by a young woman – with an irony that can hardly be missed here at the Globe) who accompanies them seems to retain any purity of motive.

The chorus pops up again to point out three traitors to the audience: one a snivelling weakling, one mournful and misled, one insidious and defiant. The king and court have decamped to Southhampton, and the king is disposed to show mercy to some drunkard who shouted at him in the street. One of the traitors counsels against this, shooting himself in the foot when it comes to his own begging for mercy. The king seems distraught at the betrayal, and then unnaturally cheerful to mask it, but before he follows the others offstage he pauses to stare hauntedly at the audience. This is a performance which does everything conceivable to stay heroic, and I, for one, am seduced.

Chorus, again: imagine some ships, etc, et voilà, we are in France. Specifically, Harfleur. Cannonballs swing, and squibs make loud bangs, and dry ice spouts up from below. Everyone is on stage at once, and everyone has blood on their face or clothing. ‘Once more, unto the breach, dear friends!’ There are a lot of famous bits in Shakespeare soliloquys, but it’s the ones which begin famously which make the audience’s attitude immediately change. The St. Crispin’s Day speech is, on the whole, a better one, but this, like ‘To be or not to be’ and ‘But soft, what light through yonder window breaks’ and ‘Friends, Romans, countrymen’ and ‘Is this a dagger that I see before me’ has an opening which every ear in the audience pricks up at. And ‘Once more’ in particular, because it is a speech for bellowing, not for meditating upon, and because it is addressed directly to the audience (one section commenting on the obvious noble English breeding of a ten year old in the audience), has the whole room ready to charge. It ends famously as well, and that helps too, to the extent that it’s not only actors crying “God for Harry, England and St. George!”  The Globe audience probably has a lower percentage of English people in it than any other Shakespeare audience in London, but everyone seems quite happy for Jamie Parker to be their king. Any French audience members might suffer from divided loyalties, though, I suppose.

The siege of Harfleur also involves some mining under the walls, overseen by angry Irishman McMorris, keen Welsh chappie Llewellyn and an entirely incomprehensible Scot. Pistol and Nym, meanwhile, are taking a breather. A gory, half-dead soldier crawls painfully towards them, only for Pistol to step on him and steal his boots. What a bastard.

The next big speech is often a problematic one, with Henry V making a series of threats to the women and children of Harfleur. Branagh plays it aggressive and then sighs in relief to let the audience know his bloodthirstiness is a front. Parker plays the whole thing as entreaty rather than threat – ‘come on mate, please open your gates, don’t make me rape your daughter and skewer your infants.’ This, if you give it some thought, still makes him a terrible person, but once again he manages to play it heroically. Harfleur surrenders, and Henry slumps with exhaustion, but spares the time to give the audience another serious, vulnerable stare.

In the meantime, we’re also getting acquainted with the French, in their fabulous gear. Princess Catherine is charming and quirky, but perhaps uncomfortably young. The king is fearful and wise, but the Dauphin and the courtiers vain, arrogant and irresponsible. They’re feeling pretty cocky, because they’re hanging out eating foie gras waiting for the English to show up while poor old Harry and co are traipsing through France getting wet and ill and tired. There’s a lovely interlude with the army marching through the pit and across the stage and off again, singing a marching song, and the first few are singing with vigour and bravado but it gradually fades out as the leaders pass and the stragglers come through, carrying the artillery, supporting the wounded, or the appalling slackers like Pistol, Nym and Bardolph. Pistol, meanwhile, has got on the wrong side of Llewellyn, and Bardolph is due to be hanged for stealing from a church, to the torment of his king and sometime drinking companion.

The night before Agincourt, the French are bickering about who’s got prettier armour and a sexier horse (the Dauphin almost literally wants to go to bed with his horse). In the English camp, Henry somewhat incompetently dresses up as a normal person (in a cloak, which he has to keep adjusting to cover his tell-tale kingly tabard) and goes walkabout, getting into disagreements with soldiers and even accepting a challenge from one belligerent commoner. When his time’s up and he has to be the king again, he goes to his knees to offer up a quick, earnest prayer. Apparently he’s still wracked with guilt for his father’s deposition of Richard II, and he swears to build churches until he’s blue in the face if God will overlook his lack of divine right to rule and let him overcome at Agincourt. They’re outnumbered and overstretched and it’s not looking good. The St Crispin’s day oration is quiet and earnest and truthful rather than hot-blooded and rousing, and the battle is stilted and choreographed but maintains a high level of excitement nonetheless. When the French herald shows up for the umpteenth time, Henry gives him an earful, but it turns out he’s here to surrender. The king looks like he’s about to weep, while oblivious Llewellyn babbles on and on beside him. For me, the comedy-Welshman routine wears a bit thin, but the king is more tolerant than me.

Back in England, Llewellyn gets revenge on Pistol by forcing him to eat a raw leek. It’s a genuine leek, I can smell it, and Pistol chews it up and spits it out again revoltingly into another soldier’s beer mug.  Finally, we return to the pomp and circumstance of court, and listen to longwinded surrender terms read by the Duke of Burgundy, before Hal packs him and everyone else off so he can chat up the princess. The bilingual wooing scene is very funny – Henry is awkward, his French terrible and his foot-in-mouth tendency charming, while Catherine is stubborn and confused, and her chaperone is fierce enough to cow even this warlike king. The united couple lead the traditional show-closing jig, which looks like a lot of fun. I always feel like I want to go to the pub with the characters at the end of a play at the Globe. Though I don’t want to sit next to Pistol.